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  • Interview: Toadies

    Fri, 15 Aug 2008 08:22:37

    Interview: Toadies - Another trip around the lake tonight

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    Times have changed for The Toadies. Vocalist Vaden Todd Lewis laughs, "Now at our shows, people say, 'My mom told me to see you guys!' That's bizarre. Or they show up because they played the song on Guitar Hero. It's a great, weird mix of people. It's really cool." Whether you heard them on Guitar or Hero or in Mom's CD player, The Toadies are one of those rare bands that you can't easily forget. Remember the first time you heard the jagged, off-kilter rhythm of their darkly comic hit, "Possum Kingdom?" When wiry mainman Vaden wailed, "Do you want to die?" during the song's final crescendo, it was strangely inviting. That's the name of the game for the quirky Texas rock band. They've never quite fit in, but that's why you still remember them.

    The band disbanded in mid-2001 after releasing their second album Hell Below, Stars Above, and, even though Vaden's enjoyed success with his post-Toadies band, The Burden Brothers, there's been a void for The Toadies. In 2007, it just made sense to get back together with the old gang and start writing songs. So, minus bassist Lisa Umbarger, The Toadies are back, and they've made their best record yet. No Deliverance, due out August 19 [Kirtland Records], is a strange trip back to Texas that only The Toadies could take. It's their classic sound with a wiser perspective, but more importantly, it's a batch of kickass rock n' roll tunes. Hanging out, Vaden took some time to talk to ARTISTdirect about No Deliverance, telling stories and why it's good to be back.

    No Deliverance sounds like you guys never went away. What was it like getting back into Toadies-mode?

    That's a kind thing to say, thank you. Getting away from it for so long and pursuing a totally different vibe with another band really helped. Once I dove back into it, I realized what makes the essential Toadies sound. It's hard to describe, but I know how to do it. So yeah, there you go [Laughs].

    You guys always captured urgent moments, and that energy comes through on the record.

    Right on! I wouldn't say this record was written hastily, but I will say I was on fire. I wrote the whole record between August of last year and April of this year. I just sat at home with my Garage Band program, and I started knocking songs out. Some songs took a week, but some happened in a matter of two days. I'd get in there, sing the first thing that came to mind and then go back and change whatever I wanted to change. It was pretty much the first draft of everything. I'd go back later and figure out what the songs were about or what was going on there. It was pretty cool the way it worked. When it came time to record it, we stayed pretty faithful to those demos. I wrote a lot in the morning because it was when my head was clear. I could grab whatever was floating around my brain in the middle of the night and put it down in the computer really quickly.

    Would you say you're more of a storyteller than a lyricist? It seems like on songs like "Man of Stone" and "So Long Lovey Eyes," you're telling some vivid tales.

    That's another part of the band that I realized was a big element of the sound. In my other band, Burden Brothers, I went in a more emotional, and, occasionally, literal direction. I decided to get back into the abstract on this one and make it more visual. It's cool that you caught that.

    Classic Toadies songs like "Tyler" pull the listener right into the moment. "Flower" on the new album does that too.

    Awesome, that's great! Most of the lyrics are inspired by personal experiences. I got a kick out of getting back into The Toadies mentality. A lot of the Toadies music is written from me thinking about a character or a storyline that I've either overheard and embellished on or just made up. You get that attitude when you wake up the next morning to write a song, and that asshole you thought about is in the song. It's just a cool way to work. It's a way to process subconscious stories. Other stuff is drawn from what's going on immediately. As a writer, whatever you feel when you get into a creative zone is an extreme feeling. So you sit down, write a couple of lines and see what comes out of you. That's where "So Long Lovey Eyes" comes from. It was just a real brief, intense feeling. I just grabbed onto it and expanded it into that song.

    As a writer, whatever you feel when you get into a creative zone is an extreme feeling.

    It's a very personal style of rock, but it's fun at the same time.

    I've always wanted to do music that was on one level smart and on another level basic and kind of stupid. I like juxtaposing those two things together.

    It's a cool balance to find because not many artists can strike that. What's it like to be back on stage doing Toadies songs?

    It's great, man. It's just cool. It's like riding a bike. The crowds have been so supportive. It's been like a vacation up there. The pre-production and rehearsals were all just shooting the shit about some crazy shit that happened 10 years ago. It's a cool thing. When I decided to do this record, I just wanted to have a good time. I wanted to use the record as an excuse to get on the road, play some new music and play a bunch of old music. That was my attitude going into it. The response has been overwhelming though. It's nuts!

    It seems like Texas was always a big part of the bands identity. Could The Toadies have happened anywhere else?

    I don't know, but I sure like that we're from Texas [Laughs]. It just works with me, and I connect with it on another level. It's interesting. There's so much mystique that you can feed off of. I don't know; it's a good question.

    You guys have a live versatility.

    We've been paired with so many different bands that being able to hang is a necessity. Before our first national tour, our first show was opening for The Circle Jerks in L.A. We just got booed at and spit on. It was one of those things. We didn't give a fuck. We went on tour with a pop band the next day and got booed at and spit on for the rest of the tour [Laughs]. You take your risks, and you learn from them.

    Why's the album called No Deliverance?

    It's the name of one track, and that song just sums up the vibe of the record. It's about diving back into it on many levels—the commitment, the apprehension and whatever else goes along with such a large endeavor.

    How has the landscape of the business changed?

    The infrastructure is what's changing. To me, it seems that everything else is staying the same. You've got your different trends that come and go. They seem to repeat themselves every few years. Watching the infrastructure struggle really makes me a little happy [Laughs]. I just can't wait to see how it all washes out. We went with an indie label for this record because we didn't want to get stuck with a label that suddenly filed bankruptcy out of the middle of nowhere and couldn't do anything—our record would just be gone at that point. Who knows what the likelihood of that happening was, but we're very hands-on and active with our label. So a lot of things that couldn't happen otherwise are happening now. For example, when I was writing this record, I had eight songs that were ready to go into the studio. I felt like that was enough, and I could write the rest either in the studio or by the time the studio got here. So I called the label, and I said, "Book time." They booked time, and they didn't second-guess me for a minute. Through the whole process, nobody asked me about a single, nobody asked me to hear progress mixes. That's just unheard of. Nobody even talked about a single until we were done mixing. Then we started discussing what the first song would be. It was just very free. Until we got out of the studio, it didn’t even dawn on me that the label never really called me. They never bothered me, they just let us do our thing.

    If more bands took that route, you'd get more pure and real music.

    There was one major difference between this record and the last Toadies record. I wasn't consciously trying to write a hit record by any means. That's just not my bag. Every song I'd write, I'd say, "I wonder if people are going to like this? I wonder if the label's going to like this." That second-guessing is just drilled into it. I guess I let myself feel that way, but I didn't have any of that with this record. I was writing a record for the hell of it. I wanted to write a good record that rocked, and that's what I did.

    —Rick Florino

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